Homeland visits can be a great way to help your child understand their roots. They can provide important information for them to craft identities around, and are experiences they will carry with them throughout their lifetime. Cradle adoption therapist Mandy Jones has some recommendations for families who are considering planning one of these trips.
All international adoptive families and adoptees should think about taking a homeland journey.
It may not be for everyone, and some adoptees may decide it’s not something they need, but no matter what your child requires to process and understand his adoption, you should talk with him about this possibility. Says Mandy: “This is a life changing, incredible experience. It can really help adoptees with figuring out who they are because if you don’t know your roots, it can be hard to craft identity. For parents, it can fill in a lot of gaps of information that they weren’t given or agencies didn’t know.”
It’s important to think about your child’s age and maturity.
Mandy fully believes these visits can be great for any age, but also that each child may get the most out of it at the time that’s right for them. Before planning, it is important to think about whether your child is ready. Some questions to ask are:
- Is my child a good traveler?
- How far along is she in processing her adoption story? Are there still things she hasn’t been told or hasn’t quite digested yet?
- Is she doing well in school and not stressed? Struggling in school or having a lot going on can be especially difficult to combine with travel for younger children.
- Are my child’s mental health needs being met right now? This is important for all ages, especially teenagers.
- Are my children and my family open-minded? Are my children prepared to be immersed in a new and very different culture?
- Is my child a good eater? Picky eaters can have an especially difficult time adjusting to a new culture. If a child doesn’t eat on the trip, he may be prone to behavioral challenges.
If your answer to most of these questions is no, it may be too soon to plan a homeland visit. There is an ideal time for adoptees to visit birthplaces. If they’re too young, they won’t be able to fully grasp the weight of their visit. Too old and they may feel as if they have missed out on a critical part of their lives. Mandy suggests that adoptees go on their homeland visit between 7 and 16, but that may vary depending on each child’s maturity and level of understanding. Mandy says that homeland visits at an earlier age give adoptees a “piece of their puzzle they are able to incorporate into who they are as they grow and reach the tough adolescent years.”
A homeland journey should not be seen as a solution to adoption-related challenges your child is already facing.
This can disrupt even those children who are especially stable and understanding of their adoption story. For children who have adoption-related challenges, trips like these can be extremely difficult. It is important for a child to be on solid footing before taking a homeland journey.
Once you decide to take the trip, take care in selecting a program.
Families should not plan these trips by themselves, Mandy suggests. It’s a lot to organize and the sensitive topic makes the trip especially difficult. What’s more, not all programs are the same. Certain programs plan the trip and don’t use guides or mental health professionals--something Mandy believes to be crucial, especially for adoption-focused days. Some children find the trip and adoption day really heavy, and parents often can find it more difficult than their children do. Says Mandy, it’s important to have mental health support from someone trained in adoption, and she loved that she was able to be there for the families in The Ties Program.
Even if you have picked a program with a lot of support, it is best to consult an adoption therapist before you go.
You can never be totally prepared for the challenges these trips may present--both logistical and emotional. Therapists can help prepare families for issues that may arise, and help them with what questions to ask and how best to emotionally prepare their child for the visit. It may also help to work with a therapist upon your return home to help process the journey and your child’s discoveries.
Consider taking the trip with another adoptive family.
If your family is close to a family who adopted from the same country, consider taking the trip together. Both parents and kids can lean on each other, and the kids have a reminder and tie to home. Plus, the kids are able to play together and spend time with each other, from swimming to bus rides to hanging out in the hotel.
There are a lot of other ways to prepare for a homeland journey.
Try to find authentic cuisine from your child’s home country, or explore different cultures, neighborhoods and communities close to home. This will expose your child to different types of people, different values and experiences, so that when you do go on a homeland journey, it’s not so shocking. Also, depending on what country you are visiting, you can see if there is a corresponding cultural society in your area and involve your family in it. Getting your child involved in music, dance or the food of the country you are going to can also be very helpful, along with practicing some of the language.